The Role of Parents in ESL Education
I’m writing this essay from the perspective of young learners (4-10years of age) and the role their parents play on their English learning journey.
I have been an ESL teacher for nearly 10 years and I’ve been teaching my private students in my private classroom for about 8 years. It has been an incredible journey.
During this time that I’ve been teaching, I’ve learned many wonderful things about teaching ESL and I have spent much time analyzing and contemplating, trying to puzzle together a clear picture which aspects of the learning process breeds the most conclusive success. I’ve come to realize that this jigsaw is extremely complex and many little pieces don’t always fit neatly together to form a clear comprehensive picture.
However, if I had to pinpoint one recurring theme that seems to pop-up consistently, behind almost every success story (there are exceptions of course) I'd like to draw the reader’s attention to the role of the parent. From my experience, the evidence is quite conclusive that behind almost every child who exceeded expectations in the ESL classroom, there was a positive parental support structure behind them, available to guide and encourage.
This post was written by our TEFL certification graduate Leroux V. Please note that this blog post might not necessarily represent the beliefs or opinions of ITTT.
Generally, which Ingredients are necessary for strong ESL progress?
Countless factors weigh in on whether a student can rise above the challenge of learning a new foreign language. Here are some of the more powerful factors that could influence learning:
- Teacher - It goes without saying, the skills of the teacher could have a powerful influence on whether a student excels in the ESL classroom. (I’m grouping teaching tools and teaching resources into this packaged bundle as well).
- Intelligence - a child’s ability to absorb information can have a strong influence on how quickly he/she can learn a new language.
- Participation - The student’s willingness to participate is also a very strong predictor of whether he/she will do well in a classroom environment. This is also linked to confidence and a teacher’s skill.
- Student’s motivation: Some students just do well in a classroom environment and are more motivated than others. Motivation is a powerful predictor of future language development. Motivation can depend on many factors including rapport with the teacher, encouragement from parents and general interests.
- Homework and self-study - This is very important. The ESL teacher only spends a very limited amount of time with their students each week. The teacher is limited to the amount of English he can expose his students to. Homework (or self-study) gives students potentially unlimited time to get additional exposure to the language. The more exposure, the more we are likely to learn and remember.
Parents’ role in encouraging participation’, ‘motivation’ and ‘self-study’
The factors discussed in (A) are in no way an exhaustive list, but it does touch on some of the more powerful factors in ESL learning success.
Teacher’s skills (A1) and Intelligence (A2) does not form part of this discussion, because, from a parental point of view, these variables are more difficult to move around - especially if we assume that the parents have made a decision who their children’s teacher will be over the course of the next few semesters
What remains now is ‘participation’, ‘motivation’ and ‘self-study’. In all three of these aspects, the parents’ role becomes crucial for a positive outcome.
Active participation during activities and games where the students can use opportunities to use the language that they have learned can be important in building confidence to use English, not just inside of the classroom, but outside of it as well. If a student readily participates during class time, parents need not be concerned about additional encouragement. However, if students are reluctant to participate, parental encouragement (and teacher alike) can be crucial for a child’s future success in acquiring the confidence and skills to learn a new language.
Students with high levels of motivation are much more likely to learn better than students who are not motivated. Teachers can help with motivation by way of encouragement, designing activities/games with a purpose and having a reward system in place. Although these tricks can help with motivating students in the short term, real long term motivation is built over time and the parents’ play a key role in helping students develop an internal store of motivation by helping them to construct a world view where they come to understand that what they are doing is important and has purpose.
Homework affords additional time with the language that is not spent with the teacher. There is so much new information to learn when we study a new language and the teacher cannot possibly impart all his knowledge onto his students with the limited time spent with them. Students who consistently do their homework and spend time with English outside of the classroom are not only more likely to acquire new vocabulary at a much quicker pace, but they are also more likely to retain the information that was learned in the classroom. Students who neglect their ESL homework consistently requires significantly more time within the ESL classroom to reach the same levels as students who put a high priority on English outside of the immediate classroom.
This is where parents’ role can become crucial for the child, as any opportunity spent with them is a potential opportunity to either reinforce what has been learned in the classroom or introduce new English words/phrases. It is simple, the more we are exposed to a language, the better we will learn to speak that language. Parents’ role here cannot be underestimated.
Pulling parents in and making them part of the learning experience
As ESL teachers, I believe the single most effective improvement we can make for our students to be better learners, is to pull the parents in and make them part of the teaching experience. It starts with educating the parents on how important their roles are in the learning process, even in the absence of the official teacher. When parents are educated with regards to their children’s education, the students’ likelihood of becoming better students increases significantly (straight line up). Informed parents can be the ESL teacher’s best ally and the ESL teacher’s role should extend to educating the parents as well, not just their children students. The teacher should serve as a guide for both students and parents.
How do we make parents part of the journey?
It starts with education. Educate parents with short pre-written texts that you send out via notice boards or on social media (like WeChat groups). Send out short notifications with some tidbits of information on the topic. Be consistent and over the course of the semester, most of the parents will start forming a picture of how important their roles are.
One can then try to get them involved as much as possible. We can invite the parents to prepare some teaching material or to come and help assist during class. We can also send them constant updates about their child’s learning progress - including their strengths and weaknesses.
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The more the parents are involved and the more informed they are the more they will care about their own child’s progress and the more they will try to take responsibility for their child’s progress.
I truly believe the single most effective change we can make as ESL teachers is to get parents involved. The results could be remarkable considering how little extra effort it takes from the teacher. Remember the parents are our best resources. They care about their children and their education. Let's use them.
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